Uncovering plastic’s harmful impact on human health

Turkey discards millions of tonnes of plastic waste every year. Over time these plastics leak harmful chemicals into the environment.

This UK-Turkey collaboration has revealed how endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) used in everyday plastic food containers and food packaging are damaging the brain development of human embryos, leading to new health-protecting regulations on plastic products.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have significantly increased globally over the last few decades. One in 10 children in Turkey suffer from ADHD, much higher than the 2.2% worldwide average. Epidemiological studies show that mothers with children diagnosed with ASD had more exposure to EDCs and that this exposure can have other diverse effects including impaired reproductive capacity, obesity and metabolic disease.

The researchers used the genetic similarity of zebrafish to humans to study the effects of exposure to EDCs during embryonic development. They discovered molecular defects, which point to the underlying mechanisms of the detrimental effects of EDC exposure during development, leading to the progression of cancer, endocrine and metabolic diseases later in life.

The results of this project have contributed to regulations on the use of products containing EDCs globally. New laws on the use of plastic bags have reduced their use in Turkey alone by over 77 percent.

Further evidence is needed to encourage the removal of EDCs from plastic products to reduce the prevalence of associated health problems. Now, the team aims to research on how parental exposure to EDCs impacts brain development in the next generation.

To achieve our goals, we needed to collaborate with a leading professional in the field. Professor Mueller from the UK believed in our joint project proposal and responded positively to our call, even though we had not met before.

Professor Ebru Emekli-Alturfan, Marmara University, Turkey

Collaborative research on epigenetic effects of BPA, BPS and BPF as potential endocrine disrupting environmental pollutants in zebrafish embryos

Project leads: Professor Ferenc Mueller, University of Birmingham, UK and Professor Ebru Emekli-Alturfan, Marmara University, Turkey

Delivery partners: British Council, UK and the Scientific and Technological Research Council, Turkey

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